Derby Days: An oft-forgotten 1978 Portland-Seattle NASL match shows true passion in Cascadia rivalry

Arcane shootout rules helped up the intensity of a classic Timbers-Sounders battle

Oregonian 1978 Sports

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(Oregonian)

Editor's Note: Derby Days. With near forty years of Timbers-Sounders history, there are a number of memorable moments. This year, we're taking a look at perhaps some of the lesser well-known, but no less important moments as a way of bridging the gap between the current era and Cascadia clashes of yore. Be sure to tune in to NBC Sports at 5pm this Saturday to see the latest chapter in the Portland-Seattle rivalry.

The North American Soccer League had some of its own twists that would seem pretty peculiar to many of today’s MLS fans. The elaborate points system awarded six points for a win, zero for a loss and one extra point for each goal scored up to three per game, meaning season-ending points totals routinely eclipsed the triple digit mark. Another unique aspect was the league’s shootout rule, which undoubtedly made many FIFA directors cringe. Following regulation and overtime, if the teams were still tied a shootout would ensue. Similar to the typical penalty kick shootout of today where each team takes a turn for five rounds (or however long it takes to determine a winner), with a few added NASL twists. The shooter would begin 35 yards out and have five seconds to take a shot – which created a thrilling (for the fans) one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper usually rushing out to close down the shooter’s angle and the shooter trying to outwit the ‘keeper.

It was a system set up for controversy, which is exactly what went down at Civic Stadium on June 10, 1978, in a Cascadia derby match between the Timbers and Sounders.

June 10, 1978 • Civic Stadium • Portland, Ore. • Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders

There was a bit more than city pride on the line as the Timbers prepared for a pivotal mid-season match against Cascadia rivals Seattle on a colder-than-normal June evening at Civic Stadium. All around the concourse, the stadium was abuzz with excitement, not only for the Northwest derby, but for the chance to witness the Timbers equal the longest winning streak in NASL history.  

The Rose City club had clinched victory in its previous seven games, including a 2-1 shootout win against the eventual Soccer Bowl ’78 champion New York Cosmos – a club as star-studded as its comes with Franz Beckenbauer, Giorgio Chinaglia, Carlos Alberto and Werner Roth.

A season-high crowd of 15,526 poured into their seats as Portland fiercely tried to batter down Seattle’s defensive game plan. Seattle was content to sit back and defend rather than spring forward on a counter attack, as Portland fired shot after shot toward Sounders goalkeeper Tony Chursky.

WATCH: Modern Day Timbers-Sounders Tifo

“Seattle gave a good display of what we call pinching it,” Timbers head coach Don Megson told the Oregonian after the game. “It was a typical fullback game. They kept numbers of players in, and then broke out very, very quickly.” 

Unlucky not to come away with a win in regulation after outshooting Seattle 35-9 (8-4 on goal), Portland had a late score by English defender Pat Howard (who was on loan for the season from Birmingham City) nullified in the 82nd minute when Yugoslavian referee Marjan Raus called a foul during the corner kick attempt. A minute later, Timbers forward Mike Flater connected on a header from a free kick that smashed off the crossbar. Raus blew the whistle and signaled for overtime.

A scoreless overtime then sent the physical match – the teams combined for 38 fouls – to a shootout. And it’s in the shootout where the match nearly spiraled out of control. This is where that helpful little primer about the NASL shootout rules comes in handy.

Marvelous goalkeeping from Seattle’s Chursky and Timbers ‘keeper Mick Poole kept the game even, but in the shootout Raus – a foreign referee that the league brought in to raise the standard and who also didn’t speak English – would reign supreme. It kicked off simply enough as both Seattle’s Dave Butler and Portland’s Brian McNeill both missed. Les Parodi, an English defender with an impressively voluminous head of curly hair, scored an easy goal for Seattle and up stepped Flater for Portland.

Flater charged toward Chursky and the former U.S. National Team forward rounded the goalkeeper as he was lunged to make the stop. This is where things get a little fuzzy. One side of the argument is that Chursky got a touch on the ball – which would then mean the offensive player was not allowed to touch the ball again – before Flater fired it into the net and that time ran out. While Flater’s side was that the Seattle goalkeeper grabbed his heel and never touched the ball. Seattle head coach Jimmy Gabriel rushed onto the field, confronting Raus – who waved for an interpreter to come over from the sidelines. Flater’s goal was allowed, much to the Sounders’ displeasure.

“He never touched the ball,” Flater said. “He grabbed my boot right here (pointing to his heel). It was definitely a goal.”

The debates raged on as two Sounders misses and one Portland failed attempt later, Timbers striker Clyde Best charged forward and unleashed a deft chip over Chursky. Seattle argued that Best took longer than the allowable five seconds to release the shot and Raus agreed, nullifying the Portland goal and unleashing the scorn of the Timbers bench.

Deadlocked at 1-1, Seattle’s Tommy Ord blasted a shot that hit Poole’s arm and trickled across the goal line before a scrambling Poole could save it. The Seattle bench erupted into mayhem a second time as Raus ruled that Ord took longer than five seconds to shoot.

Portland’s fifth and final shooter was winger Willie Anderson, who left no question on his goal by drilling a shot into the upper right corner giving Portland a 2-1 shootout win and its league record-tying eighth consecutive victory. Not without further controversy though, as Seattle general manager Jack Daley planned to file a protest of the shootout.

“The protest is about all three,” Seattle head coach Jimmy Gabriel told the Seattle Times. “Flater’s goal shouldn’t have counted and the two that were disallowed by Tommy Ord and Clyde Best should have.”

The complaint never did see the result changed, as the Timbers kept the winning result and strengthened its lead in the National Conference Western Division standings. Maybe Clyde Best explained it most appropriately following the match.

“The referee is Yugoslavian. He doesn’t speak English. It would be like putting me in Yugoslavia and expecting me to understand. He’s entitled to make mistakes.”

Hard to think those in Seattle would be as empathetic. Six days later, however, Portland went on to set the league’s new consecutive wins record with a shootout win against the New England Tea Men at Civic Stadium.